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Do's and Don'ts: Divisional Playoffs Edition

Hello, I am new to the community and a long time Carolina Panther fan, blogger, and Twitterer before I stumbled upon Cat Scratch Reader. Where have you been all my life!

This is my weekly blog, Do's and Don'ts. Hope you enjoy and I hope to blog more over the offseason.

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via farm7.staticflickr.com, courtesy of PDA.PHOTO

Do: Continue to develop Cam Newton as a vertical passer.
Don't: Rush him.

All winning playoff teams relied on a heavy dose of passing. Just look at the stats of these quarterbacks over the weekend:

Drew Brees: 40-63, 462yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Tom Brady: 26-34, 363yds, 6 TD, 1 INT
Eli Manning: 21-33, 330yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Alex Smith: 24-42, 299yds, 3 TD, 0 INT
Aaron Rodgers: 26-46, 264yds, 2 TD, 1 INT

No game managers here! They all had at least 33 attempts and an interception (with the exception of Smith). While it is nice to have a running game, it is no longer the reason teams win playoff games. Cam Newton needs to continue to develop his aerial game, even it means more interceptions to learn how to do so. Though critics will be quick to point out that Carolina won more when Newton's passing yards were less, throwing merely 200 yards is not going to win a close playoff game. Notice Smith the passer had to win the game, not Frank Gore, the runner. (And I realize the irony of Smith's incredible TD run in the closing minutes.)

All these quarterbacks also needed years to develop. Despite Newton's "best rookie ever" campaign, the fan base and front office need to continue to be patient, as even the best quarterbacks currently in the playoffs took 2 years or more to become the "elite" players they are today.

The front office needs to continue to surround Newton with offensive line and pass catching talent. Which leads to the next Do and Don't after the jump...

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via farm7.staticflickr.com, courtesy of PDA.PHOTO

Do: Use the tight ends. A lot.
Don't: Go to Legadu Naanee in key moments.

After watching Saturday's playoff games, I noticed how dynamic the tight end position has become. Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez were significant difference makers in their playoff games. They were "matchup nightmares," and their quarterbacks continued to go to them in clutch situations.

I saw every Carolina Panther game this season, and though Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey put up good numbers, I really believe that Newton did not take advantage of their abilities enough. (That will come in time.) They have shown in the past to be nightmarish matchups themselves and can be as explosive as the tight ends above. Newton and the offense need to trust them in key situations, rather than Legadu Naanee, who Newton seemed to trust irrationally over the tight ends in critical situations.

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via farm6.staticflickr.com, courtesy of ShutterKing|KT

Do: Draft a first round pass rusher.
Don't: Draft a wide receiver in the 1st round.

With the exception of New England, all playoff teams remaining had an incredible pass rush and punishing linebackers at the point of attack. (Oh, I can't wait for a healthy Jon Beason to return.)

What's even more interesting is that each had an up and coming 1st round pass rusher: Aldon Smith, JJ Watt, Jason Pierre-Paul, Cameron Jordan, and Von Miller. If this is any indication, a worthwhile 1st round investment should be made in a pass rusher. (On a side note, I noticed that Michael Crabtree was the only top-10 drafted WR starting this weekend. Hakeem Nicks and Torrey Smith were drafted very late in the first round.)

While much can change because of free agency, the combine, and pro days, it seems to me that a pass rush needs to be a 1st round draft pick priority. Though they are flashy and exciting, the Panthers don't need wide receivers Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jeffery. If they think DE/OLB Mercilus Whitney, DT Michael Brockers, or DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw are the best pass rushers and are a reach at eighth/ninth pick, they should seriously consider trading down for more picks. (See their history of success when trading down!)

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via farm7.staticflickr.com, courtesy of PDA.PHOTO

Don't: Giveaway the ball.
Do: Take it away.

Weekend stat from @BaxFootballGuru: 8 winning teams with 7 combined turnovers, 8 losing teams with 20. #simple

Enough said. If a team gives the ball over on turnovers, they are watching the big games from home. We've seen the Newton statistic over and over again (Carolina was 0-10 when he turned the ball over, 6-0 when he didn't), so I'm sure we all already understand how important it is for him to hold onto the ball. Miraculously, there were zero rushing fumbles lost this year. But the WR/TE crew were responsible for 4 lost fumbles, 2 by Steve Smith, and 1 each by Olsen and Shockey. Needless to say, ball security is something the 2012 Carolina Panthers should improve on.

Conversely, the Panthers coaching staff should (if they don't already) emphasize takeaways as the key to winning big games. It helps explain why the Panthers lost so many close games this season, as they were constantly coming up short or struggling to hold leads after giving the ball away. (You can argue they were the reasons we won the close Houston and Indianapolis games.) If there's any common thread to the seasons in which Carolina made the playoffs, it is that all those teams won the turnover battle. This year, the Panthers were a measly, but respectable +1 in turnover margin this year.

If the current roster can't force takeaways, the front office should draft, trade for, or sign defense/special teams playmakers that have a penchant for takeaways. Realistic or not, I would love to see them make a run at the following defensive ends in the offseason:

Free Agents:
DE Cliff Avril: 6 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 11 sacks
DE Jeremy Mincey: 4 FF, 1 INT, 8 sacks

Draft Prospects:
DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus: 9 FF, 16 sacks

Although I love Greg Hardy and Thomas Keiser, they are still a little young for the big time, and would make for great rotational players.

PantherEdgar
Twitter: @PantherEdgar

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